I did not just learn to fear my body growing up. I learned to fear my Black body.


by Maya Williams 

This essay mentions r/pe. 

One day, in the fifth grade, I was playing outside and fell on my crotch. I ran inside crying to my mom, “I hurt my…my…” gesturing to my pelvic area, “bad part.” The one thing I can appreciate from my mother was how she immediately responded, “No, your vagina is not a bad part. It’s a good part, okay?”

As positive as that was, it didn’t leave as much of a significant impact on me as other “sex talks” with my parents. My mom also said things along the lines of, “As your body continues to develop, men will stare at you.” My father gifted my sister and I purity rings on our sixteenth birthdays as a way to tell us to wait for marriage, but he never gave my brother a purity ring for his birthday.

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Considering this—layered with listening to campus ministry sermons forbidding students from doing anything that might invite orgasm before marriage, dating people who made me feel insecure about my gender and sexuality, and my own anxiety disorders—it is no surprise that I learned to fear my body.

I often write about my mental health. And although I have written about the topic of sex before, this is my first time writing about it to this extent. I am also talking about sex more, as it is a more pertinent topic in my therapy sessions these days as well. I am ready to break out of my comfort zone with sex in the same way I have done with my mental health by writing about it. 

When it comes to the topic of sex, everyone, especially gender minorities, are taught to fear their bodies. That having a sense of sexuality, and even asexuality or no immediate sexual pursuance, that has us not using our bodies in a way that is expected of us is sinful or horrendous. Hence why we may learn from a very young age to think of our anatomy as “bad parts.” 

I did not just learn to fear my body growing up. I learned to fear my Black body. 

Not only were the sex ed classes I was obligated to attend shitty for strictly depicting cis-heteronormative couples. They were also shitty in showing anatomical diagrams and videos of only people with white skin. When going online to obtain information about sex that I couldn’t get from my classrooms, the majority of YouTube sex educators I saw on my home page were white cisgender women. There were few exceptions, but with their lower view count, I couldn’t find them as easily. 

I observed that when white women celebrate being sexual, they are “revolutionary”; when Black women celebrate being sexual, we are up for question. Learning to hate my Black body as a nonbinary woman impacted me in regards to questioning if anyone would truly love me. I felt awkward in how I looked, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to have fun while being intimate with someone, and I kept internalizing being called “stuck up” for the type of boundaries I set up in intimacy; or needing to learn how to “take a compliment” when receiving comments filled with misogynoir about my physical features. Growing up did not give me the opportunity to love and celebrate my body well, and I’m trying to change that. 

After moving to Maine almost three years ago, I became involved in consent education through theater. I have acted in a theater company called Consensual Daydreamers. When we perform The Vagina Monologues, we invite and encourage audience members to blow kazoos during parts that were racist, transphobic, or nonconsensual so we can talk about it afterwards. 

With that same theater company, for two years I have been in an interactive consent-based rewrite of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where scenes that haven’t aged well in regards to consent are redone (e.g. scenes involving shedding off of clothes without permission and rape by deception).

I am currently working with a non-profit called Speak About It as a consent educator and actor with high school aged youth and college students around the country. Different casts of five people are sent to perform at schools, universities, and non-profits to act out a play about the terms and definitions surrounding consent and the joyous things about romantic and sexual relationships; this includes queer relationships. 

After the show, we have a dialogue about how to implement specific lessons from the play in regards to sexual assault prevention, being an active bystander, and remembering that not all healthy relationships have to be sexual, but sexual relationships must be healthy. 

This past December, I was part of Speak About It’s first all person of color cast for a show at a high school in New Hampshire. There have been people of color in the organization acting with folks, but this was the first cast with only people color in its almost ten years as an organization. This made me continue to reflect on the importance of racial representation in sex education. 

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Being a consent educator through theater has been empowering for me. It made me want to explore what access to better sex education for Black people could potentially look like. When there is a focus on healthy side effects and pleasures in order to effectively talk about sex after being exposed mostly to risk factors or weaponizing religion in a way to stigmatize it. 

When Black people’s anatomy and autonomy are just as normalized as others in classrooms and media, there is an ability to grow in higher self-esteem about our bodies and our sexuality. Most importantly, it makes me feel good speaking to other Black and Brown youth—whether they want to engage in sexual activity or not—to help create more opportunities for them to talk openly and healthily about sex and consent than I ever had.

Maya Williams (she/hers & they/them) is a mixed race Black suicide survivor and writer currently residing in Portland, ME. They have published essays in spaces such as The Tempest, Black Girl Nerds, Multiracial Media, and The Trill Project. Follow Maya @emmdubb16 on Twitter and Instagram.